ROVING RACERS ON THE HIGH SEAS

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ROVING RACERS ON THE HIGH SEAS

Faced An two races a week apart n Spah and Sbly, the S-T-D team set sdl An keen yachtsman Kendm Lee Ganness ontesting two important international races a week apart with a sea crossing splitting the venues has always been a challenge. Today, to save

time, air freight would be standard, but no easy option existed in 1922 when Louis Coatalen’s Sunbeam-Talbot-Darracq factory team confronted the problem.

They wanted to contest both the Penya Rhin GP for voiturettes in Barcelona, Spain and the Coppa Florio on the Madonie mountain circuit in Sicily a week later, fielding three TalbotDarracqs in Spain and two Sunbeams in Sicily, with the same drivers and mechanics for both.

Now, while numerous current and recent Formula 1 superstars could well afford to match S-T-D driver Kenelm Lee Guinness’s solution, it was pretty sensational at the time. `KLG’ — yes, the spark plug company was his — actually ran a converted ‘Castle’ class trawler as his private motor yacht, Ocean Rover. He was an enthusiastic and accomplished sailor, and urged his team-mates, “There’s nothing like a yachting cruise, you know — no hotels to worry about, no timetables, plenty of sea air — you’ll love it!” Coatalen was a sea-wise Breton and French team driver Jean Chassagne a former sailor, so they both quickly supported Guinness’s master plan. But Irish-born Henry Segrave wasn’t so keen. He had childhood memories of seasickness on Irish Sea ferries — but appreciating he was outnumbered he also agreed. So late that October ‘Bill’ Guinness put into Southampton with Ocean Rover for two 4.9-litre six-cylinder Sunbeams, using 1922 TT chassis, to be craned into her forward hold, together with a Sunbeam tourer as team tender. Thereafter they set sail for Le Havre, where the Talbot-Darracq voiturettes were loaded, despite one having been damaged en route from S-T-D’s Suresnes factory

in Paris. A telegram then arrived, informing Coatalen that the Coppa Florio race had just been postponed for a week, from November 12 to the 19th, which promised

a few more days’ leisurely cruising in the Med. But the initial leg of their voyage from Le Havre through the Bay of Biscay encountered immediate storms. Coatalen had planned to have the cars race-prepared aboard ship but as Ocean Rover pitched and rolled her way south so the hapless mechanics spent more time gagging over the rails than working.

Bill Guinness was a tough skipper, and at one stage as strange noises emanated from the hold, he sent Segrave to investigate. They feared one of the cars might have broken adrift, but Segrave found instead that a large crate of bloaters had toppled and burst open, spilling the fish into bilge water and oil which was heaving side-to-side as the little ship rolled. Segrave claimed to have rushed to the cars to take a deep breath from a fuel tank, but then felt even worse so dashed up on deck where the gale settled his stomach. Later that night the ship’s rolling twice threw Segrave from his bunk. He struggled into the deck house lounge planning to doss down on a sofa there, only to find riding mechanic Moriceau had beaten him to it. A massive roll then sheared the floor fixings on the chair Segrave had adopted, and both he and Moriceau landed on a floor awash with sea water, Segrave

spluttering, “Guinness was right — there’s nothing like a bloody yachting cruise!” KLG himself admitted next morning the weather was “not too good”, and put into Gibraltar to tidy up and appease his ‘crew’ before sailing on, up Spain’s Mediterranean coast, to Barcelona. The Penya Rhin GP was being run on an 8.7-mile road circuit at Villafranca de Panades. ‘The Invincible Talbots’ had their work cut out against strong opposition, and while KLG led, Chassagne’s car broke a valve and Segrave’s caught fire. Moriceau hung his feet over the cockpit side, but Segrave — busy pressing on — could not. Thankfully as he accelerated onto a straight the flames around his pedals blew out. At the pits Segrave showed his burned shoes to Coatalen who merely responded, “If it catches

fire again, put your feet in a puddle!” Bill Guinness scored his third consecutive voiturette race win and Talbot-Darracq’s sixth in six races, beating Louis Zborowski’s Aston Martin. The singed Segrave placed fourth. Two days later, the winner and his now apprehensive ‘crew’ set sail for Sicily, only to be battered by another storm off Sardinia. Ultimately they put into Palermo, then sailed round to Termini where Ocean Rover was to serve as team HQ. Segrave and Moriceau set off in their 4.9-litre car for a reconnaissance lap, despite Count Florio’s warning it was getting late. Out in the mountains they had to repair a broken water pipe which delayed them sufficiently for night to fall. Without lights on the sinuous roads Segrave crept home in bottom gear, with

Moriceau perched on the car’s hot bonnet, calling directions. Rain then fell, and reaching a village they sought shelter, dined on bread and chocolate, and dossed down in a hay barn — infested with insect life. On race day, cars were despatched at fiveminute intervals, and Segrave and Moriceau soon came upon Meregalli’s rolled Diatto. The driver had broken an arm but his mechanic had been killed. The Sunbeam crew helped until qualified medical aid arrived, before rejoining the race. They worked their way up to fifth on lap two, when Moriceau lifted aboard a keg of water to top up their leaking radiator. They then came upon Chassagne’s Sunbeam which had broken an oil pipe, losing all lubricant. A local offered olive oil, which was eagerly accepted, and Chassagne headed for the pits, where Segrave also stopped with a punctured tyre. Coatalen demanded, “Where the blazes have you both been?” before ordering Chassagne’s engine to be drained and refilled

with proper oil, and Segrave to go “all out”. Andre Boillot was leading in his Peugeot, with Becquet’s second, being caught rapidly by Segrave until the Sunbeam struck a gully and Moriceau was bounced high from his seat, losing the water keg which bounced away down the mountainside. They had to stop to retrieve it, only to find that its bung had been driven in, so they could only race on with a half-full radiator. Segrave threw caution to the wind and flogged into Becquet’s advantage, taking second place — after eight hours’ racing he finished 76 minutes behind Boillot. Then

it was everyone back on the skylark for another ‘yachting cruise’ back home. Incredibly, Ocean Rover still survives, as the Cruz bar and restaurant, in Leith harbour, Scotland. You just couldn’t write this stuff… real racers.

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